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McDonald’s Around the World: Malaysia Edition

McDonald's in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaWell, the trip is drawing to a close, which means that this is my last taste of international McDonald’s weirdness.

McDonald's in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

First up: the Golden Prosperity Burger, which consists of a chicken patty (it’s also available in beef), a hash brown, black pepper sauce, and onions.  I didn’t care for this one at all.  For one thing, it was easily the sloppiest burger I’ve ever had at McDonald’s; the soft bun was barely even able to hold up under all that sauce.  The chicken patty was really bottom-of-the-barrel — it was one of the shoddiest reconstituted chicken patties I’ve ever had.  Plus, the sauce was just one-note peppery.  It really needed pickles or something acidic to balance things out a bit.

McDonald's in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Up next was the Bubur Ayam McD, which was a rice porridge with chicken, green onions, fried shallots, ginger, and sliced chilis.  This was actually not bad at all — the rice had a good texture, and all of the flavours worked pretty well together, with the fried shallots adding some crunch.

McDonald's in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Last but not least was the Red Bean Pie.  This was about as close to a sure thing as it gets.  I mean, it’s a crispy fried McDonald’s pie filled with tasty red bean filling.  Yeah, it was quite good.

McDonald’s Around the World: Vietnam Edition

McDonald's in VietnamThere was something particularly depressing about eating at McDonald’s in Vietnam. I’ve only been here a few days, but it’s already clear that this country has some of the best food of anywhere I’ve visited so far. It kind of sucks to waste a meal on McDonald’s, but I’ve come this far. No point in turning back now.

The feeling of vague sadness was compounded by being surrounded almost exclusively by Western tourists. I don’t want to be the kind of traveller who judges the way that other people travel, but my hotel is near the main tourist-centric stretch of town, and I’ve seen some stuff. There are so many tourists that hang out at these cheesy-looking bars eating stuff like pizza or nachos, and it just makes me sad. The food here is so good.

But then blog or no blog, I’m in McDonald’s too, so I guess I’m part of the problem.

The menu here had a few interesting things, at least.

McDonald's in Vietnam

The first thing I tried was the pork and rice. This came with a small pile of rice with teriyaki sauce, a cut up pork patty, some veggies, and an egg. It was fine, I guess. I think you can get a pretty good idea of what this tasted like just by looking at the picture.

McDonald's in Vietnam

I had the curly fries on the side. There may as well be one factory that makes all of the curly fries for the entire planet, because they always taste exactly the same.

McDonald's in Vietnam

There were a few sauces other than the usual ketchup at the dispenser, which helped. I tried the chili sauce, the garlic chili sauce, and the mayo sauce, and they were all fairly tasty.

McDonald's in Vietnam

I had the Strawberry McFizz to drink, which was basically a strawberry soda with jam on the bottom. It was intensely sweet, but refreshing.

On Experiencing Delightful Sticker Shock in Vietnam

Vietnam foodI just had my first couple of meals in Ho Chi Minh.   For lunch, I stumbled across a tiny little restaurant that specializes in broken rice.  It was a pretty basic version of this dish: it’s a fairly substantial pile of rice (made with, as the name suggests, broken grains of rice) topped with grilled pork, greens and some crispy bits (I have no idea what these were but they were super tasty).  It also came with a really satisfying bowl of vegetable-packed soup.

Vietnam food

The price?  30,000 dong, or about $1.66 Canadian.  That is obscenely cheap for such a satisfying, delicious lunch.

Vietnam food

For dinner I went to a place called Bun Thit Nuong Chi Tuyen.  Their specialty is a dish I’ve had countless times back home that features a mix of rice noodles, pork, veggies, and herbs, with a spring roll on the side.  You top the whole thing with a sweet fish sauce (there was also a container of fiery red chilies at the table that I’ve never seen back home; it really kicked things up and was a pretty amazing addition).

Vietnam food

This is my go-to dish at Vietnamese restaurants, and this was the best version of it that I’ve had by far.  The noodles had a really great chewy texture, and the balance of flavours was incredible.  Back home, sometimes the herbs are a bit overwhelming, or the proportion of vegetables is off, but here everything was just right.

Vietnam food

And don’t even get me started on the spring roll, which was absolutely perfect.

And you know what else was perfect?  The price.  47,000 dong, which works out to $2.60 Canadian.  It’s suddenly becoming very clear to me why this place is so popular with younger travelers.  You can make very little money last a long time here.

And a bonus at the noodle joint: this almost improbably adorable puppy, who was sleeping on a chair just outside of the restaurant.

Vietnam food

Omurice Greatness in Kyoto

Fu-ka in Kyoto, JapanFrom the outside, you can barely even tell that Fu-ka is a restaurant.  Tucked away in a quiet residential street near one of Kyoto’s many shrines, it’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

They have a small menu that focuses on curry; I went with the curry omurice (which, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese dish that consists of an omelette on top of a pile of rice).

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

The curry had a mild but satisfying flavour, and the chunks of beef were nice and tender — but what really made this dish stand out was the omelette itself.  They say that the truest test of a chef’s skills are the way he makes an omelette, because it’s so simple to make but incredibly difficult to do well.

Fu-ka in Kyoto, Japan

If that’s the case then the chef here must be pretty amazing, because this might have been the best omelette I’ve ever had.  It was silky, creamy, and luxurious; at first glance I thought it might be a bit underdone, but there was none of the sliminess you get from undercooked eggs, just a uniformly velvety texture that was downright magical.  It was so good.

Amazing Japanese Curry in Tokyo

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, JapanCurry isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Japanese food, but yeah, they love it here.  And if a hole-in-the-wall joint called Kitchen Nankai is any indication, that love is very much justified.  Like pretty much all of the food I’ve had in Tokyo, it’s good.

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

There isn’t a single word of English to be found anywhere in the restaurant, but — as is fairly common in Japan — they have plastic replicas of their dishes in a display out front.  This is a godsend for clueless travelers such as myself; the grizzled older lady who runs the place followed me outside, I pointed, and that was that (in retrospect, I probably could have just said “katsu curry” and saved her a trip outside.  Oh well).

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

The place specializes in katsu curry, which is a deep-fried chicken cutlet and a side of rice that’s been slathered in a tasty curry sauce.

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

That curry was bonkers.  It was so good.  I’ve never had anything quite like it — it had a really rich, beefy flavour, and tasted more like a long-simmered chili or a stew than like any curry I’ve had before.  It was also spicy enough to get some sweat going, but not so spicy as to distract from the flavour.

The chicken katsu was the perfect vehicle for the curry; it was perfectly tender, and crispy enough to stand up to the deluge of sauce.  It would have been delicious on its own, but with that curry it was out of this world.

Light, Crispy Fried Goodness

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, JapanTokyo is trying way too hard to make me fall in love with it.  But you know what?  It’s kinda succeeding.

Its latest attempt to make me never want to leave: a little restaurant called Tempura Imoya.  I think you can take a wild guess at what they specialize in.

Like pretty much every place I’ve been to so far, there was a line to get in.  Hot tip: if you’re coming to Tokyo, bring a good book, because you’re going to be standing in a lot of lines (at least if you want to eat well — and trust me, if you’re in Tokyo, you want to eat well).

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

I don’t think they even have a menu here, or at least if they did I didn’t see one.  They have a set tempura lunch which comes with a cup of green tea, rice, a bowl of miso soup, a plate of tempura, and a sauce to dip it in.  All that for just over seven bucks Canadian.

The tempura consisted of a piece of whitefish,  squid, shrimp, squash, and some kind of leafy vegetable — arugula, maybe?

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

It was amazing.  Everything was cooked to perfection, and the amazingly crispy batter was almost improbably light.  It’s so light it practically just dissolves in your mouth (that sounds weird, but trust me, it was so good).  It was easily the best tempura I’ve ever had.

And that sauce — oh man, that sauce.  It wasn’t like any tempura sauce I’ve had back home; it was subtly sweet and crammed with ginger, and yet somehow it didn’t have that harsh gingery bite.  It was so good I could have eaten it on its own (and in fact there was a bit of sauce left after the tempura was finished, so I just poured the remainder on what was left of the rice).

Seriously though: Tokyo?  I’m going to need you to stop being so amazing.  I need to leave eventually, and you’re making that way too difficult.

Improbably Delicious Eel in Tokyo

Hashimoto in Tokyo, JapanAnother day, another Michelin-starred meal in Japan. This one wasn’t quite as cheap as Nakajima, but it’s hard to care when the food is this good. This was straight-up one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Hashimoto in Tokyo, Japan

The restaurant is called Hashimoto, and they specialize in unagi — glazed eel cooked over coals. The place was a bit expensive, so I went with the small size, which I bitterly regretted as soon as I took my first bite and realized how insanely delicious it was.

Hashimoto in Tokyo, Japan

The eel was an absolute revelation. Who even knew eel could taste like this?? It was unctuously tender, with a hauntingly subtle sweetness from the slightly caramelized glaze.

The coal adds an absolutely perfect amount of smokiness; it’s always there, but it never overwhelms. Perfection.

The interplay between the smokiness, the sweetness, and the melt-in-your-mouth tender eel was magical.

The rice and the sauce was quite delicious as well, but holy crap, that eel. Holy crap.

Visiting the Biggest Department Store in the World

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South KoreaDid you realize that the biggest department store in the world is in Busan?  No?  Well it is and I went there, because why not?  It’s the biggest in the world.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

The store in question is the Centum City location of Shinsegae, a Korean department store.  And it is impressively large.  I’m not sure how much of a sense of scale you get from those pictures, but it is an imposingly monolithic structure that was even bigger than I assumed it was going to be.

Cavernous, multi-level department stores are a dime a dozen in this part of the world, so on the inside it doesn’t look all that much bigger than the norm.  But then there’s the certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records which confirms that, at an area of 3.16 million square feet, this is indeed the largest department store in the world.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

But of course, what really interests me here is the food hall in the lower level (try to act surprised).

Most of the menus at the various vendors here were entirely in Korean with no pictures, so I basically just wandered around until I saw a dish on one of the counters (waiting to be picked up) that looked good, then I pointed to it.

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

Ah, pointing; my old friend.  Here’s a hot tip for you: when you’re traveling and you don’t know the language, pointing is as good as gold.  Just look around for something that looks good, then point.  Of course, if you’re a picky eater or you have food restrictions this could end badly, since you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to eat, but otherwise it works great.

I wound up with bibimbap in a hot stone bowl, which is a Korean rice dish that comes like this:

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

Then you mix it up, and it winds up like this:

Shinsegae Centum City in Busan, South Korea

It’s so great.  There’s a really inviting mix of flavours and textures here, and the piping hot stone bowl crisps up the rice around the edges.  If you’ve never had bibimbap, you need to fix that immediately.  It’s pretty much the opposite of an acquired taste; I can’t imagine anyone not liking it.

Souping it up in Souptown

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South KoreaOne of the specialties in Busan is a soup called dwaeji gukbap — pork and rice soup.  There’s a whole stretch of road in the Seomyeon area of town that features nothing but one restaurant after another that specializes in the dish, so yeah, it’s a big deal here.

I picked one pretty much at random (I did have a recommendation, but the signs were all in Korean, so I had no idea which was which), and went in to get my soup on.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

They love including pictures in their menus here, which is a boon for clueless travelers like me, because I can just point to what I want to eat.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

The soup is an elaborate affair, coming with several bowls of condiments (and the requisite kimchi, of course).  It’s a bit bland at first, but once you start adding the various pastes, vinegars, and add-ons, the soup really comes alive.

Pork and rice soup in Busan, South Korea

It’s incredibly hearty, too, with a ridiculous amount of very tender, thinly-sliced pork, and a heaping amount of rice.  It’s a really satisfying lunch.

McDonald’s Around the World: China Edition

McDonald's in Beijing, ChinaMcDonald’s in China is an absolute treasure trove of menu oddities.  It’s amazing.  There were a few countries where I struggled to find even one or two things that I wanted to order; meanwhile, there was so much stuff I wanted to try in China that I actually wound up having two separate meals at McDonald’s.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

Up first: the Jumbo Wing, which is literally just a full chicken wing that’s been skewered on a wooden stick.  It’s not bad.  The meat has a salty, almost cured flavour — it’s definitely been brined in something.  The skin could have been more crispy, but it was a pretty good wing.  I guess there’s nothing particularly odd about a chicken wing, but this really seemed like a strange thing to be eating at McDonald’s.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

The next thing I tried was the Italy Stewed Flavour Big Chicken Cutlet.  This is basically just the chicken from a fried chicken sandwich, but without the sandwich.  Eating it like this just made me miss the sandwich parts of the sandwich.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

There was also the Chicken Patty Rice.  This was a bowl of rice with some kind of sweet sauce, bits of mushrooms (I think — I can’t find any information about this online.  That’s what it tasted like, at least), lettuce, and pieces of chicken.

This was actually quite tasty.  The sauce had a slightly sour flavour to balance out the sweetness, and the chicken was dark meat (the general preference for white meat back home completely baffles me — dark meat is more tender and more flavourful.  It is objectively better than white meat).

McDonald's in Beijing, China

Then there was the German Beef Double Sausage Burger.  I’ve mostly been skipping the  burger options at the various McDonald’s I’ve been to, because for the most part, they’re pretty boring.  But this one has two German sausages on it, so yeah, obviously I had to try it.

It was okay, I guess.  I think the sausages were supposed to be bratwurst, and they were fine.  But the two burger patties were even more dry than usual (and at McDonald’s, that’s saying something), which made it hard to enjoy.  Still, the tasty horseradish mustard helped.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

And finally, I tried the Passion Fruit and Peach Jumbo Cone.  This was pretty good: the sauce was quite tart, contrasting well with the very sweet soft serve, and the couple of whole peach slices on top were a nice touch.  I think the cone was a charcoal cone?  Either that or chocolate.  Either way, it didn’t taste like much, and it was slightly bitter (but not unpleasantly so).  It was fine, but a cup probably would have worked a bit better — it was a mess.